How to Make Tinctures and Tonics, Guide To Homemade Medicine

The world of plants is a powerful one. There are a wealth of components in plants that serve to protect them at various stages of development, as there are so many forces at play including weather, predators (including us) and soil quality. When we consume these plant constituents in various forms, we can also reap the benefits – but learning how to prepare these plants properly is crucial. This is where homemade tinctures and tonics come in.

Our students at the Academy of Culinary Nutrition love food and recipes, but as they begin to dive into culinary nutrition they also become inspired to create their own herbal medicine. Homemade tinctures and tonics are actually not as complicated as you might think and when you learn the common methods to formulate them, the possibilities become endless.

How to Make Your Own Tinctures and Tonics

There are several ways you can extract the benefits from herbs and other plants. These are:

  1. Infusion: An infusion is when you steep plants in water or oil to glean their beneficial properties. One of the most common infusions is tea, which most of us are accustomed to drinking.
  2. Decoction: This is boiling an herb or vegetable in water, so the water then contains the soluble constituents of the plant being boiled. This is a great method for hardier plants that won’t ‘give up the goods’ with gentler methods – a good example would be chaga or reishi mushrooms.
  3. Tincture: A solution of alcohol or alcohol and water, along with the plant that you’re using for medicinal benefits. Tinctures usually take longer to make, anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months to fully saturate the liquid with the plant medicine (think of vanilla extract, for example).
  4. Maceration: Softening by soaking in a liquid.  Maceration is generally used for very delicate plants and the liquid is usually cold or barely heated. Often, macerations use oil as the liquid.

Choosing Herbs + Vegetables

The type of herb you use will depend on what your herbal medicine is for – it may be to support the immune system, calm the nervous system, ease digestion or reduce inflammation. For a few recommended herbs for healing, you can check out our Guide to Culinary Adaptogens or our DIY Elixir Guide.

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How To Make Infusions

A good general rule of thumb is 1 teaspoon of herb to 1 cup of water – of course, this may vary depending on your personal tastes, and how strong or weak you prefer your infusion to be.

Some great herbs for infusions are:

  • Chamomile: Calming and great for digestion.
  • Peppermint: Helps to relax the muscles of the digestive tract and reduce spasms.
  • Cinnamon: Great for balancing blood sugar.
  • Ginger: Anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting and great for nausea.
  • Licorice: A great digestive aid, and it’s anti-microbial and anti-bacterial.
  • Turmeric:  Strongly anti-inflammatory and rich in anti-cancer properties.

Learn more about tea blends here. And don’t forget – you can also use tea infusions in cooking and baking!

How To Make Decoctions

Use about 1 teaspoon of herbs and one cup of cold water. Put your herbs and water into a pot, then bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover and let it simmer from 20 to 45 minutes, depending on how hardy the plant is. Strain the liquid, then drink or use it in your culinary recipes.

How To Make Tinctures

Tinctures are surprisingly easy to make! We have a free class where we demonstrate how to make a tinctures – check it out here.

What you need:

  • Herb of choice
  • 40% vodka (in glass bottle)
  • 1 glass jar
  • Parchment paper
  • Masking tape for labelling
  • Cheesecloth or nut milk bag

How to Make Tinctures:

  1. Fill up glass jar with herb halfway.
  2. Add vodka so that level of the liquid is at least two inches above the herb. Note: If you are using dried herbs, you might have to add more vodka at a later time.
  3. Place parchment paper between the lid and jar. (This is done to prevent the rubber seal from dissolving.)
  4. Seal jar tightly.
  5. Label jar with date, percentage alcohol, herbs, and method used.
  6. Shake two times per day for one month.
  7. After a month squeeze out the menstrum (the resulting liquid) using cheesecloth or a nut milk bag.

How To Make Macerations

Many macerations are made using oils to gently extract the plant power. Put your herbs and oil into a small jar. You can let them infuse anywhere from an hour to a few weeks. For an example of how you can macerate for beauty care, check out this skin-soothing salve.

More Herbal Medicine Tips

  • Use the fresh herbs. This will produce the most powerful tincture and tonics. If your herbs don’t have a scent, that’s not going to change once you make your herbal medicine.
  • Cut the herbs into small pieces. This allows for a greater surface area so the plant compounds can infuse into the liquid.
  • Label your jars. Label your herbal medicines with the date and what’s inside them. That way there will be no confusion! (You may think you’ll remember what everything is. You won’t. Trust us!)
  • Start slowly. This is powerful plant medicine. These tinctures and tonics are meant to be taken in small amounts. With a tincture, you may only need a few drops.

Interesting in Learning More About Homemade Medicine?

Herbal medicine has a lot more function in everyday use than most of us realize. Start creating your own herbal remedies with our self-paced online course, Everyday Herbal.

Tinctures and Tonics Culinary Nutrition Guide To Homemade Medicine

Image: ChamilleWhite

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24 responses to “How to Make Tinctures and Tonics, Guide To Homemade Medicine

  1. Eddie

    Your artcile is so detailed about how to prepare a proper tincture. Thank you! I have one question though.
    I leave in Malai and our local stores are not selling 190% proof alcohol (like everlast). On my side, I am trying to prepare the tinctures as much as closely to the recipe. I have many herbalism books which suggest certain volumes for the alcohol mentstrum. As an example for the Calendula Officinalis the recipe is 1:5 (w/v), 70% alcohol.
    Our local stores sale only 35% – 40% alcohol drinks (like vodka). Is there something that I can do for that? Like divide the alcohol and volume menstrum by 2 so my final output of the above recipe is 1:2,5 (w/v), 35% alcohol? Or I just have to stick to the folk method?
    I really would be grateful for any advice because that matter is a little bit confusing to me!
    Thank you in advance,

  2. Academy of Culinary Nutrition

    Hi Eddie! You should be OK with most herbs using a 40% alcohol, and you can do a small batch to test it out and ensure you are preserving properly with no mold growth. You can also try tincturing in vegetable glycerin for an alcohol-free option. There are some tinctures you can make with apple cider vinegar, like this one:

  3. Julia

    Hi there! I am looking to make my own tinctures! How do you get these approved by the FDA?

  4. Academy of Culinary Nutrition

    Hi Julia! This is beyond our scope, as these tinctures are intended for home use and not for sale. We recommend visiting the FDA’s website for more information about what is required to get tinctures approved if you’d like to start a business, or see if you can connect with a tincture business in your area for guidance. Good luck!

  5. Tam

    Having trouble understanding the 1:1 ratio. What does that mean is it 1cup water to 1 cup menstrum?

  6. Academy of Culinary Nutrition

    Hi Tam! For infusions and decoctions, the ratio is 1 teaspoon of herbs to 1 cup of water. It’s not 1:1 in equal measure. We hope this clears things up for you! Tincture amounts are more about the size of jar you choose – there is a tincture-making video in this post that might make it clearer for you:

  7. Morgan

    How long do infusions and concoctions last?

  8. Academy of Culinary Nutrition

    Hi Morgan! If you’re making tinctures with alcohol, they have a longer shelf life – a few months at least. If you’re making an infusion or decoction, it’s best to drink within a few days.

  9. Kim

    If I wanted to mix water with everclear in making a tincture what should the water to alcohol ratio be?

  10. Academy of Culinary Nutrition

    Hi Kim! We typically don’t dilute our tinctures with water when making them. There are a bunch of different water-to-alcohol ratios depending on what you are tincturing and the proof of the alcohol. There are a bunch of formulas here that you may find helpful:

  11. Erica

    Very good article! I have tried myself to make a tincture with dried nettle and hawthorn with 40 % alcohol and three weeks later, I saw many tiny bugs floating in the jar. I searched the web and they look like “cigarette beetles”. I filtered the tincture immediately, although it needed more weeks to infuse. I believe they were already in the dried herbs. Is it safe to consume now? If we see something like that in a tincture during the process of infusion, what are the right steps?

  12. Academy of Culinary Nutrition

    Hi Erica! Honestly, if it were us and there ended up being beetles in the herbs, we’d toss the tincture and start again. We like to be cautious.

  13. sheila coutouvidis

    Very interesting article. I need to know whether to keep my developing tincture in sunlight or darkness.

  14. Academy of Culinary Nutrition

    Hi Sheila! There are some herbalists that say the warmth of the sunshine helps the plants release their constituents faster into the alcohol. We’ve kept developing tinctures in a cupboard only and that works well too, so it’s really up to you! You can do either, though we recommend keeping it in a cool dark place once you’ve strained the tincture and it’s complete.

  15. Jess

    Can I mix herbs in the same tincture? Like for example candula and dandelion? Or best to make separate and mix after? Thank you 😊

  16. Academy of Culinary Nutrition

    Hi Jess! Yes, you can certainly mix more than one herb in the same tincture. If you’re making a tincture for internal use, ensure that all herbs you’re using can be safely ingested. This is where labeling is really important – we recommend labeling exactly what herbs are in tinctures, and whether it’s designed for internal or topical use.

  17. Kelly November 10, 2022

    If you make an infusion. How much should you drink per day for medicinal purposes? What is considered a daily dose of an infusion?

  18. Academy of Culinary Nutrition November 15, 2022

    Hi Kelly! It really depends on what kind of herbs you are using for your infusion and what you are taking them for. If you’re drinking an infusion for something acute, then you may only need to take it for a couple of days. If you’re drinking an infusion for something that is chronic/ongoing, there may be a best recommended dose and frequency but that will vary depending on the person’s condition and health history. We always recommend consulting with your practitioner for a specific protocol that is customized for your needs.

  19. Wesley March 19, 2023

    Hi, I recently purchased the Magical Butter machine for speeding up the process in making tinctures. I have been using a Crockpot/ slow cooker in the pass and still do.
    My question is what would you recommend the set temperature and duration/time be for making a herbal powder tincture using this device?
    Thanks very much.

  20. Academy of Culinary Nutrition March 21, 2023

    Hi Wesley! We’re not familiar with that machine, and have never used it (we use the methods described in this post to make tinctures). We’d recommend getting in touch with the manufacturer to see if they have any instructions for how to best use it for tinctures.

  21. Amanda A D April 15, 2023

    Thank you for an informative article. You mention tinctures and tonics multiple times. However, what is the difference between a tincture and a tonic, and how are tonics made? I find that the word tonic adds nothing to the article and is distracting. I would love to have info on tonics since you mention it with tinctures.

  22. Academy of Culinary Nutrition April 18, 2023

    Thanks for your question, Amanda. Tincturing is a specific preparation method (typically using alcohol, but you could also use glycerin to make a tincture). A tonic generally refers to the action of the herb, for example it could act on a specific area of the body or the body as a whole.

  23. Melanie Hartley May 4, 2023

    I’d like to speed up my herbal oil infusion. I’m using my crockpot with water on low temp which is around 68% and have put my dried mushrooms in virgin coconut oil inside a sealed jar inside. I’m wondering if there’s a formula to determine the time for temperature fueled infusions when heat is applied?

  24. Academy of Culinary Nutrition May 9, 2023

    Hi Melanie! We’ve seen varying instructions for crock pot infusions, suggesting anywhere from 4-12 hours of cooking time. And then the infusion is ready to be strained and used. We don’t typically use the slow cooker for infused oils, so you’ll need to experiment and figure out the timing that yields the product you love.

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